La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for November 2015

As we close out November as National Adoption Month, I’m serving up some thoughts on adoption; international, transracial adoption specifically.  What with the troubling push in some circles to “promote” adoption and the silencing of adoptee voices that don’t confirm the Happy-Happy-Joy-Joy adoption narrative , I hereby offer some hard questions for potential adoptive parents to answer before they decide to pursue adoption as a means of building their family.

  1. Are you interested in adopting a child for any reason other than it is a method for building your family? To be specific, are you feeling “called” to adopt? Are you feeling that you have “been given a heart for” adoption by a supreme being? Are you motivated by sacred texts that exhort you to care for “widows and orphans?” In short, is there anything other than a burning desire to be a parent pushing you toward adoption?  If yes, please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: If your overarching desire is to help widows and orphans, consider all of the myriad ways you can contribute to their well-being without adopting. Are there programs in-country that support family preservation? Are there microlending programs and such that can help a widowed mother keep her children by earning a living wage? In short, if you truly feel called to adopt as a philanthropic gesture, even as a “bonus” outcome, you are adopting for the wrong reasons.
  2. As you consider adopting a child of another race, from another culture, do you look around at your friends and family and see other people of that ethnicity? Do you see ANYONE of a different ethnicity or race than your own? (NOTE: Your One Black Friend From Work does not count). If the answer is no, please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: Your child cannot and must not be your first (or even second or third) contact with that culture. If you have never in your life met a Korean or legitimately socialized with people of Korean or wider Asian ancestry (meaning, people who would have a key to your house, who have met your parents, etc. Real relationships), you have no damn business adopting a child from Korea.
  3. As you project yourself forward in time to when your child can hear and comprehend the comments and jokes and attitudes of relatives and friends, are you 100% committed to cutting people out of your life who harm your child? I mean this in the most serious way. Are you ready  to tell old Uncle JimBob that he has 5 minutes to get his head right and never tell a racist “joke” again or your relationship is over? Are you ready to have people you love tell you that you are oversensitive or PC or holier-than-thou when you do not allow them to “other” your child with “humor”? Transracial adoptees who are now adults speak painfully of Christmas dinners where jokes and comments were made, relatives shushed, and the awkwardness swept under the rug. Where people who were supposed to love them mocked their birth culture, their appearance, their history. Are you ready to take no prisoners as you protect your child from ignorant if well-meaning relatives? Up to and including cutting all ties with them? If the answer is not a raw, painful, determined Yes, then please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: Some of the worst damage inflicted on our kids comes from relatives and friends who “love” them but who refuse to acknowledge that just because they don’t find something offensive, doesn’t mean it isn’t.
  4. Are you ready to move to a new city or state for your child’s sake? Do you live in a majority white town? Would your child attend a majority white school? Even among non-white kids who were not adopted, the negative effects of being “the only” in a sea of white people are well-documented. Will people find your Ethiopian-born son adorable when young but a Scary Black Male when he is older? Will classmates’ parents permit him to date their children? Will he constantly have to answer questions about his appearance, his differences, with the effect of chipping away at who he is at his core? If you cannot answer with 100% certainty that you would pack up and move (and in fact, if you are not already planning for it), then you should not adopt a child of another race. Pro Tip: Note that the people who are loudest about “minorities” needing to “get over” issues like this seem to carry the most fear about whites no longer being the majority. You might ask them if being a minority is the no big deal they say it is, why would they be concerned about becoming one? If the one Chinese kid needs to toughen up in a school of 799 white kids, then surely one white guy shouldn’t get so bent about being the only white guy. Right? Just asking (sips tea)..
  5. Do you recognize that every member of the adoption constellation is more important than you? Do you honestly truly believe it? Adoption is not and never should be about finding a child for YOU. Do you acknowledge that it is rather about finding a family for a child, and that the child and birth mother must always come first? You are not owed a child. You do not deserve a child. A birth mother reserves the right to “change her mind” at any time. A birth country reserves the right to make determinations of parental fitness with zero concern for your beliefs. If you feel, even in some tiny pocket of your heart, that you deserve a child to love because you have so much love to give, then please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: When you speak ill of a child’s birth family or birth culture (even if you think it’s justified), you communicate to your child that her origin (and therefore she) is defective and shameful. Never, never speak ill of your child’s origins, even as a “joke.” Without those origins you would not have this precious child. Speak and act accordingly.
  6. Finally and most importantly, do you acknowledge that you must change your life to accommodate your adopted child rather than the other way around? Do you commit to the belief that it is never the responsibility of the child to adjust herself in order to function within your life parameters? That YOU will have to do the heavy lifting, that YOU will have to have the difficult conversations, that YOU will have to make the changes necessary for your child to grow up happy and healthy? If you adopt a child, then YOU are taking on the responsibility for ensuring the life, health and happiness of your child. If you don’t fully grasp this, do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: Your child owes you nothing. You will banish the word “grateful” from your vocabulary. You will immediately shut down any discussion by random people of “what her life would have been like” if she had not been adopted, as if to imply she is so much better off now. We have no idea what her life might have been in her home country; it may have been better or worse; who knows? Assuming this life is “best” is the worst kind of self-involved cluelessness.

In sum, there are a million wrong reasons to adopt a child, but there is only one good reason: you want to be a parent, and legal, well-regulated, legitimate adoption is one means of doing so. If any part of you feels like you are saving a child, that you are pleasing a god, that you are healing the world, I beg of you to sit with those feelings and truly ask yourself if adoption is right for you. If you think raising a child of a different race will be more or less the same as raising a child of your own race, I beg of you to sit with those thoughts and truly ask yourself if you have done the research and the work that ethical adoption requires. If you think that life will essentially stay the way it is now, only with a cute little baby added into the mix!, I beg of you to explore those thoughts and root out the inaccuracies. Life will never again be the same. You will no longer be a white family. You will see and hear things about race in our country that only yesterday you would have absolutely vowed were not credible and not happening. You will owe it to your child to address those issues. You will lose friends in the process. You will agonize over how to disconnect from people you thought you knew. You will fear their loss. And then you will look at your child’s beautiful, smiling, trusting face and realize you don’t miss those people at all.

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This week the world lost a beacon of light. His name is Bill and he is my friend. I cannot immediately bring myself to speak of him in the past tense, so enduring is the light he brought to his far too short time on earth. All of us who love him are standing broken-hearted, staring into the giant void in the universe where Bill used to be. It does not seem possible that this planet should turn on its axis, that the stars should remain in the firmament, or that the sun and moon should rise without him here.

While trying to comprehend our loss of this beautiful man, I want to shout his name, sing his praises, and dance in the light that he brought to our lives. I want to tell this world that Bill may be physically gone but all of the unique and loveable things that made him so special are not. No matter what happens on this physical plane, Bill is and shall be forever. His spirit, his courage, his humor, his generosity, his faith, his decency, his love for his wife and daughters:  All of these are now and will be forever.

Bill and I met in Spanish class in 1991. We all had to pick a Spanish name, and he and I commiserated that we couldn’t come up with anything more creative than Ester and Guillermo. In that first class, Bill let out a laugh that everyone who knows him can identify from 50,000 feet: Part guffaw, part shout, part pure joy radiating from the solar plexus. I heard it and instantly decided I wanted to hang out with any guy who could bring that kind of hilarity to the table. Thank God for that laugh, because it drew me to such a true and good friend. Thank God for that laugh, because it still echoes in my head and in my heart. Thank God for that laugh, because anyone who has been lucky enough to hear it will never be without it. Bill’s laugh will be forever.

We spent our spring break in Appalachia building homes for in-need families. We slept on army cots in a church auditorium, ate donated food from the local Roy Rogers, and showered at the YMCA. One classmate on the trip was not down with the spartan accommodations. She complained loudly and rudely about how the food was terrible, the beds were uncomfortable and the showers inadequate. She loudly harrumphed about the inconveniences she was enduring for charity. Bill was not having it, and he very pointedly illuminated for her all the ways in which she was being an ungracious guest and a terrible ambassador for our school. He did not raise his voice or use one profanity, but he made it clear that her reign of terror was over. Thank God for that sense of decency and good faith, because it called Bill to action when others stayed uncomfortably silent. Thank God for that sense of decency and good faith, because it maintained the dignity of the people we were helping. Thank God for that sense of decency and good faith, because it called on those of us bystanding to do better next time. Bill’s decency will be forever.

I remember complaining one day about something a friend had done or said or whatever perceived fault it was that I can no longer recall. I called Bill to share my latest Airing of Grievances and he stopped me cold. He flatly told me to get over it. Were these my friends or weren’t they? Did the friendship matter more than my irritation? Was I really going to waste an afternoon on this? He told me to chalk these things up to the cost of having friends. Friends will disappoint, but in turn they will love you when you are the one doing the disappointing.  Thank God for that generosity of spirit, because it encouraged me to be a better friend. Thank God for that generosity of spirit because it made me want to disappoint Bill less. Thank God for that generosity of spirit, because I later realized that Bill had been showing that generosity to me. Bill’s generosity will be forever.

When I was very sick in 2007, praying I’d live long enough to get my stem cell transplant, Bill flew in to visit me. We talked about all the dreaded what ifs. What if I died? What if my daughter never remembered me? What if I didn’t actually die but never got better? Bill had the courage to walk with me through all of those dark places because Bill himself had been there. Thank God for that courage, because it carried Bill through multiple surgeries and procedures. Thank God for that courage, because it carried everyone who loved him through those surgeries and procedures. Thank God for that courage, because Bill taught every single one of us every single day over many, many years the true meaning of the word. Bill’s courage will be forever.

In Judaism we have a saying: “May his memory be for a blessing.”  It utters the hope that the good our loved ones did in life will live on long after they are gone. That the memory of that person will spur someone to do a good deed, and that good deed will inspire another and another, creating a wave of blessings rippling out from the loved one’s existence via all the people who remember him.

This is how I know beyond any doubt that Bill will be forever. Because even as we stand here staring into this incomprehensible void, those ripples are already forming.

The ripple of joyous laughter.

The ripple of uncommon decency.

The ripple of pure generosity .

The ripple of quiet courage.

The ripple of tender kindness.

The ripple of genuine honesty.

The ripple of fierce love.

Every time a person who loved him continues his legacy through actions great and small–it means Bill will be forever. Every action that creates a ripple that strengthens into a current that coalesces into a wave–means that Bill will be forever.

These waves that will create goodness, inspire kindness, and offer support for all that is right in our world. These waves that will lovingly carry, today and into the future, his precious wife and daughters who Bill loved with such devotion.

These waves: Of laughter. Of kindness. Of decency. Of love. These waves, powered by the eternal love of Bill’s friends and family, will crash onto the shores of our mortal world and declare defiantly that today and always–Bill will be forever.

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I had a whole post ready to go about the Syrian refugee crisis and the shameful reactions of some American governors toward it in light of the Paris attack.

I was going to point out the particular kind of cruelty that insinuates refugees are likely part of the evil forces they are trying to escape.

I was going to point out that most parents don’t put their children in a dinghy and traverse rough waters risking death in order to become a sleeper cell in Nowhere, Texas.

I was going to point out the rich irony of people simultaneously claiming persecution because Starbucks won’t put Jesus on a paper cup and refusing to acknowledge actual, real, horrific persecution when it is indisputable.  All the people who can spot religious persecution when it involves a coffee cup but can’t spot it when it’s a sea of desperate humans running for their lives.

Instead, I’ll just post these photos with some thoughts, both for Christians and Jews.  The US has been on the wrong side of such a refugee situation before. Let’s be on the right side of history this time.

Just got published over at the fabulous Raising Mothers.  Hope you like! http://www.raisingmothers.com/the-thin-line-between-love-and-hate/